NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at an immigration hearing at...

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at an immigration hearing at City Hall on March 15, 2017 where she likened President Donald Trump's deportation policy to "ethnic cleansing." Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The head of the New York City Council, likening President Donald Trump’s deportation crackdown to “ethnic cleansing,” said Wednesday that lawmakers are exploring ways to ban U.S. immigration agents from local courthouses and stop the NYPD from asking arrestees for their country of birth.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito made the comments at a hearing of the City Council immigration committee. Anti-deportation advocates testified at the hearing that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are now more than ever waiting in courtrooms to detain undocumented immigrants who show up for pending criminal cases.

“There seems to be a real clear intent that certain types of people are being focused on, with the express intent of getting them and removing them from this country,” Mark-Viverito said.

She pointed to Trump allies like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who earlier this week tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Hindering Trump on immigration policy has become a top priority for the city’s Democratic-dominated government since his inauguration.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Mark-Viverito called the view that what Trump’s policy is akin to ethnic cleansing “very powerful.”

She also said “we’re not shying away” from the designation as a so-called sanctuary city — shielding immigrants from federal enforcement. Trump has promised to reduced federal funding to cities nationwide that maintain their sanctuary status.

A Trump spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Testifying before the committee, Peter L. Markowitz, an associate clinical professor at the Cardozo School of Law, urged the city to abandon the NYPD practice of asking arrestees the birth-country question because he said the federal government uses that information to identify and target immigrants.

“Immigration authorities routinely target what they call ‘foreign-born, no matches,’” he said. “So, if they don’t see somebody in their database, but the NYPD lists them as foreign born, they now can become a target for immigration enforcement, and they do.”

NYPD spokesman J. Peter Donald said the country-of-birth information is not shared with the federal government and the information is collected to comply with longstanding treaties requiring countries to notify an arrestee’s home country.

Keeping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement off court property would present legal and logistical challenges: The city maintains courthouses, but courts are run by the state and are open to the public.

“Obviously there’s private areas within those public facilities that they cannot access and we should make sure that that’s clearly on the books and on record,” Mark-Viverito said.

The state court system spokesman, Lucian Chalfen, didn’t return messages seeking comment. Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget czar conceded for the first time that New York City must brace for budget cuts under President Trump.

“Will there be cuts? Of course there will be cuts,” said Dean Fuleihan, director of de Blasio’s Office of Management and Budget. He added: “We acknowledge this, that we’re going to have cuts and we’re going to have to address that.”

Preston Niblack, the budget deputy to Comptroller Scott Stringer, predicted that with Trump in the White House “it’s gonna get a little ugly for cities.”

Latest video